When Katie Couric (finally) announced in early June her plans to launch a syndicated talk show with ABC in fall 2012, with a deal to appear on ABC News in the interim, many at the network were presumably pleased to land such a high-profile talent.
But count Joe Ruffolo, ABC News Digital’s relatively new senior VP, as one who is especially looking forward to Couric joining the team in August. “She has done tremendous things at CBS News and other places on the digital front. She’s proved her interest and her talent for that,” Ruffolo says of Couric, who has more than 234,000 Twitter followers.
While Couric was at CBS News, she hosted the online program @katiecouric, and Ruffolo says he would “absolutely” like to see her do a similar Web show at ABC. In fact, increasing the amount of original Web video is a priority of Ruffolo’s at ABC News (he previously created Web series as VP at AOL.com, a position he left for ABC News in April).
More original video is just one part of what Ruffolo pitched ABC News President Ben Sherwood as a “1,440-minutes-a-day news experience” (a full 24 hours). The others are developing news products and focusing on the user experience.
Ruffolo has redesigned the ABCNews.com home page since taking over, enlarging the photos and rearranging the headlines to get more news on the front page. The “This Just In…” widget, launched in June, allows journalists in the field to live Tweet and post updates during breaking news, contributing to the sense of immediacy to the home page that Ruffolo is trying to achieve.
Immediacy was a point of issue in two major news events last winter when ABCNews.com, along with many other outlets, incorrectly rushed to report that wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had died, and again when it was the last of the network news sites to make the Cairo protests the lead story on its site.
At the time, Sherwood said it was a “mistake” to post the Giffords report on the Website, but he did remark that the error didn’t make it onto the ABC News broadcast, which “reflects one of my challenges at ABC News, which is to bring the organization together.”
Ruffolo, for his part, has found the network and site to be very integrated in his tenure. “There is not a second standard, if you will, for what happens online,” he says. Nonetheless, Sherwood has made digital a focus across the company (though he declined to be interviewed for this story). Ruffolo is part of the larger editorial meetings and meets with all the executive producers and talent on a regular basis. The online division is even shifting closer to the broadcast literally, by moving offices to be on the same floor as the broadcast newsgathering organization.
And recognizing that the news game is in many ways a speed game, ABC News will be updating its tools, including its blogging platform, allowing it to pull in more information and post it faster. “I’m really trying to hit the timeliness factor in bringing news,” Ruffolo says.
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